Confronting the Blame Mentality

In a previous post, I had echoed the sentiments of certain analysts who believed that politicians (and many Americans) erroneously blamed China for American economic woes. Since then, pundits as Fareed Zakaria have asserted that the U.S. had to focus less on consuming and more on investing in itself, and that China was merely reaping the rewards of long term investments in its infrastructure and education. During a recent forum on climate change in Hong Kong, New York City mayor and business magnate Michael Bloomberg similarly questioned critics who blamed China’s “policy” of subsidizing clean energy exports to the U.S. while restricting imports. He contended that Americans need to examine itself and more importantly, bring back the work ethic that it once had and that characterizes many first generation immigrants to turn around the current decline:

“It is very dangerous for us as a society — I’m speaking of America — to focus on blaming others, because what you do then is you don’t focus on your own practices…The hard work [in Asian cultures, presumably] should be envied…Americans on average I’m not so sure they’re working as hard as they used to…We are becoming more dependent on entitlements and feel that society owes us.”

China, of course, has long held a Confucian work ethic that permeates its society, as detailed in Part 3 of the “Creating a Culture of Education” series. Bloomberg openly criticized the federal government’s decision to investigate China’s perceived violations of World Trade Organization rules, which many believe has led to a trade imbalance. He also excoriated newly elected senators and congressmen (many of whom also blamed China) for basically being uneducated:

“If you look at the U.S., you look at who we’re electing to Congress, to the Senate—they can’t read,” he said. “I’ll bet you a bunch of these people don’t have passports. We’re about to start a trade war with China if we’re not careful here,” he warned, “only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is.” (See Wall Street Journal blog article and video below).

The current scapegoating of China only magnifies the ignorance of a popular segment of American society. Bloomberg, both a moderate political figure and a private sector corporate mogul, is wise enough to know that a Keynesian perspective (i.e. that government and private sector are important balances for macroeconomic growth and stabilization) needs to be maintained. It is no coincidence that his administration includes some fairly aggressive and polarizing ideas for the “business side” (such as increasing city revenue by charging more for tolls, and suggesting a soda and cigarette tax) and for the government side (e.g., mandating lower salt content in foods and prohibiting smoking in public spaces). In maintaining that balanced perspective, Bloomberg also suggested that Hong Kong can learn from U.S. by opening itself more to immigrants, who would presumably bring diverse and innovative ideas.

It is worth repeating that a society will become educated and will make wise decisions about its future through lifelong learning and maintaining a broad perspective. Such investment is essential to ridding Americans of the blame mentality that is seen so much today.

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